Some growing companies are extending their data sharing with their large customers. And, rather than having to establish systems that are compatible with their partners' systems, they access the systems directly and use them as if they were themselves employees of the partners. That often requires less technical know-how than does standard electronic data interchange.

G& F Industries, a $22-million maker of plastic molding in Sturbridge, Mass., got the idea for deep data sharing from its largest customer. Some time ago, Bose Corp., in Framingham, Mass., asked G& F to put one of its employees on site at a Bose plant full-time. Bose wanted a representative from G& F to be part of a just-in-time manufacturing-resource-planning tactic.

At the time, the notion of an on-site supplier was considered radical, but until electronic communication made face-to-face communication unnecessary, G& F planner John Argitis spent part of almost every day at Bose. He has access to all information available to any Bose buyers, and he has the authority to place purchase orders with G& F on Bose's behalf.

Argitis regularly logs onto Bose's internal network and calls up the plant's materials, requirements, and planning report. The report predicts Bose's inventory needs for the next six weeks. G& F uses the reports to plan its production and to ship products that go straight into Bose's production process, eliminating Bose's need to stock G& F products.